Moscow has threatened to retaliate against Lithuania after the Baltic state halted the rail transport of Russian goods under EU sanctions to the enclave of Kaliningrad.
Russia’s foreign ministry summoned Lithuania’s chargé d’affaires in Moscow on Monday to “demand an immediate cancellation of the restrictions” or face “actions to defend [Russia’s] national interests”, it said in a statement.
Grigory Karasin, a former senior diplomat who chairs the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said the démarche was “harsh” and warned any response would be “quite decisive”, according to the Russian news agency, Interfax.
Lithuania, which controls the only overland rail route linking Kaliningrad with mainland Russia, at the weekend began limiting the export of goods covered by EU sanctions in retaliation for President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The restrictions affected oil, cement, steel, iron, coal and other goods amounting to slightly more than half of total Russian rail supplies to Kaliningrad, the ministry said.
Sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, Kaliningrad has been a source of tension between Russia and Europe since the Baltic states declared independence from the USSR in 1991, leaving it without a direct overland route to Moscow.
Russia’s Baltic fleet, which has almost 80 warships and submarines, is headquartered there. Moscow has also deployed nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missiles in the region, though it has not said whether they carry nuclear warheads.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s security council, warned in April that it would be impossible for the region to remain “non-nuclear” if Finland and Sweden joined Nato, suggesting the possible nuclear deployment could be made official.
The EU sanctions have isolated Kaliningrad further still, forcing Russian planes to make a detour over the Baltic Sea due to a ban on using the bloc’s airspace.
Lithuania rejected Russian accusations it had acted unilaterally and said its move was in compliance with the EU measures, which contain different winding down periods after which the goods in question can no longer be shipped to Russia.
“It’s not Lithuania doing anything. It’s the EU sanctions,” said Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister. “It is done with consultations with the European Commission and under the European Commission guidelines.”
The European Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Landsbergis, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, played down the threat of a Russian response.
Lithuania also said the overland rail route would remain open for passengers and non-sanctioned goods.
The Kremlin likened the restrictions to a “blockade” and said it would assess the situation before deciding whether and how to respond, Interfax reported.
Anton Alikhanov, Kaliningrad’s governor, said the province could ship the sanctioned goods through the Baltic but said the extra cost would make transit economically unviable, according to state newswire Ria Novosti.
Russia could take “fairly obvious” measures in response that would be “extremely painful” for Lithuania, he added.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, played down the possible consequences of the spat.
“The rest of the world will not be affected by what is happening in Kaliningrad, but the rest of the world is very much affected by what is happening in Ukraine,” said Borrell.